Three GOP Senate candidates and incumbents in tight races have so far distanced themselves from Mitt Romney's comments that 47 percent of the American public doesn't pay income taxes and is "dependent on government." But on Wednesday, Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Tommy Thompson broke that trend and stood by his party's presidential nominee.
"I think that that is taken out of context," said Thompson when asked by Fox News about Romney's comment.
"What Gov. Romney is saying is that we'll be willing to help people but they have got to help themselves and they have got to be able to stand up and take what is offered and be able to make something out of it," he said. "I think a much more telling thing is what President Obama is saying, that he wants to redefine and to reassign the profits and the assets from one person to another. The redistribution, I think, is much worse of a position to be in than what Gov. Romney is."
Thompson's defense of Romney separates him from some of his fellow Republican candidates. Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) have both distanced themselves from Romney, as has Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon.
"That's not the way I view the world," Brown said in response to Romney's remarks. "As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs."
Thompson has repeatedly agreed with Romney's statement that nearly half of Americans don't pay income taxes.
At the March 2012 Republican caucus in Waukesha, Wis., Thompson said that 50 percent of the public were "not paying taxes." Two months later, in a May GOP Senate debate, he said, "I think it is a real mistake in America that 50 percent of the people, up to 50 percent, don't pay any taxes." And in a July 27 interview with Wiseye, he said, "You know, almost 46 percent of the people, you know, don't pay any income taxes."
While it is inaccurate to say that half of Americans don't pay taxes of any kind, almost half of Americans don't pay federal income taxes, either because they are senior citizens, because they don't make enough in income, or because of deductions that have been championed by both conservatives and liberals. Nearly all Americans do pay taxes in the form of payroll deductions, gas levies and a variety of state and local sales and property taxes.
Thompson's campaign has used the number of people who don't pay income taxes to justify his tax plan, which would lower tax rates for the nation's top 1 percent of earners. In June, Thompson aide Brian Nemoir told PolitiFact that it "better balances the nearly half of all Americans that don't pay income taxes against the nation's top 1 percent of earners."
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"That's not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs," Scott said in an email to <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/250157-sen-scott-brown-denounces-romney-comments" target="_hplink">The Hill</a>.
"He was obviously inarticulate in making this point," Ryan <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/paul-ryan-mitt-romney-video_n_1895403.html" target="_hplink">said</a> during an interview with a Nevada television station.
"This could be the opportunity for Romney, and for that campaign, to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism, start explaining liberty to people and what it means," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/rush-limbaugh-mitt-romney_n_1893882.html" target="_hplink">Limbaugh said</a> Tuesday. "And explain that they don't need to be in that 47 percent. There's no reason for them, for everybody to be -- essentially having given up on their future in this country. There's no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism."
"Mitt Romney probably could have better explained himself. I think he was a little clumsy in doing this," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/house/249975-rep-allen-west-romney-a-little-clumsy-with-47-percent-comment" target="_hplink">West said</a> on Fox News.
"Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I'd put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/brooks-thurston-howell-romney.html?ref=davidbrooks" target="_hplink">Brooks wrote</a>. "He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?"
"It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant," <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/note-romney-s-arrogant-and-stupid-remarks_652548.html" target="_hplink">Kristol wrote</a>.
"He has to not apologize, because we've seen enough apologizing already, and he cannot apologize," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/campaign/249993-trump-romney-cannot-apologize-for-inartful-comments-at-fundraiser" target="_hplink">Trump said</a> on NBC News. "What he said is probably what he means." Trump also said that Romney's words were "inartfully stated."
"The Romney campaign should double down on what he said. They should own it. The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney. Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53% and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were," <a href="http://www.redstate.com/2012/09/17/treat-the-press-as-enemy-collaborators/" target="_hplink">Erickson wrote</a> in a blog post on RedState.com.
"[Romney] believes that every American has got to have skin in the game...he doesn't want what the president wants," <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/09/christie-romney-wants-to-empower-people-135893.html" target="_hplink">Christie said</a> on Fox News, adding that Romney wants to "empower individuals...and that's what he's really talking about."
"The idea that you're declaring, 'Well, the race is over. Mitt Romney doesn't care about people,'" <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/laura-ingraham-fired-up-over-romneys-47-tape-its-ridiculous-this-is-getting-airtime/" target="_hplink">Ingraham said </a>on Fox News. "Meanwhile, you have a president whose policies have undermined the 47 percent. ... I'm very pumped up about this. I think it's ridiculous that people are seizing on it and that we're even giving all that much airtime to it, frankly."
"I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track," <a href="http://www.lindaforsenate2012.com/news/press-releases/2012/09/18/linda-mcmahon-response-to-mitt-romneys-remarks/" target="_hplink">McMahon said</a> in a statement.
"To read many of the reactions on Twitter, you'd think Mother Jones had just found video of Mitt Romney strangling a hooker with her own pantyhose," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/322394/quick-thoughts-freeloaderdammerung-jonah-goldberg" target="_hplink">Goldberg wrote</a>. "Indeed, many people understand what Romney is getting at here, even if he's saying it badly."